LOUISVILLE, KY - AUGUST 05: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland signs his autograph for fans during a practice round prior to the start of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 5, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Updated: August 6, 2014 12:43AM
LOUISVILLE, Ky.—He comes to blue-grass country galloping like a thoroughbred.
In his last two starts, Rory McIlroy has won the British Open, joining Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus by winning his third major at 25, and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to regain the No. 1 ranking in the world.
And yet, McIlroy wants nothing to do with Era Talk.
“I’ve had a great run of golf,’’ McIlroy said Tuesday at Valhalla, where the PGA begins on Thursday. ``[But] I’m not sure you can call that an era or the start of an era. If [I] read everything that’s being written, I’d turn up at the first tee on Thursday thinking I’d already won the tournament.’’
He’s right. The way Martin Kaymer blitzed the U.S. Open field, the way Bubba Watson has taken ownership of Augusta, the way any number of golfers can grab golf by the throat for a week, it’s a little early to anoint McIlroy.
And yet, with the status of Woods, 38, in doubt this week due to a back problem that adds to questions about when, or whether, he’ll win another major championship, golf is searching for its next great
That’s especially true with Phil Mickelson also battling to match his performance to his reputation.
“Just makes me feel old,’’ Mickelson, 43, said of being paired with players from the Rory generation. ``When somebody says, `I used to watch you on TV when I was 6,’ how do you respond to that?’’
While Mickelson put on a marvelous show to win the 2013 British Open, and while he fired an eye-opening final-round 62 last week, he has not had a season that says he’s ready to step up here at Valhalla.
Like the rest of the golfing world, Mickelson is impressed with McIlroy.
“He’s such a great driver of the golf ball,’’ Phil said. ``As long as he keeps playing to his [driver] strength, he’s going to making
birdies and winning golf tournaments.’’
Unlike Woods, who seems to be trying to win tournaments with every practice swing, McIlroy has the blessing of youth. You can hear Tiger’s major clock ticking with every swing; Rory might as well be
out for a round with his pals.
Before his wire-to-wire win at Hoylake last month, he won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA by a combined 16 strokes.
“What’s going through my head when I approach each shot is just that shot,’’ McIlroy said. ``That’s what I feel when I’m mentally at my best on the golf course. It’s approaching every shot as if that’s the
only shot that day, and not getting ahead of yourself, thinking about your score or thinking about where you are in the tournament or on the leaderboard. I’m staying in the present.’’
The rest of us can ponder what a statement McIlroy would make with a third straight win this week at Valhalla.